Why would indoor flash photos suddenly look different mid-shoot?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by r_s|22, Jun 27, 2016.

  1. Hi, this is a bit of a strange situation so I'm really hoping someone can help me out. I shoot a lot of concerts, theatre, etc. where flash is not required but generally haven't done much indoor portrait and private event photography. So I've really only started using flash this past year and am still getting the hang of it.
    At the moment, my main setup is a 5D III with a Speedlite 380ex using the hot shoe with a basic plastic diffuser.
    I had a short shoot in a dimly lit room today (just a bride and groom signing papers and exchanging rings, nothing fancy) and I used a 24-70mm 2.8 II lens, using a colleague's recommended settings for indoor event flash photography, bouncing the flash off the ceiling. At first, it looked just fine. The lighting was even and nicely colored and I was really happy with it.
    Then, after about 5 minutes, without changing the settings, location or anything else, the photos very suddenly started coming out incredibly dark and poorly colored. I realize that sometimes the flash doesn't fire properly and/or needs a moment to reload but in this case it WAS firing. Yet the pictures were almost pitch black. I had to bump up the ISO to 4000 just to get the lighting to acceptable levels, but the coloring was extremely red. I took a bunch of pictures and the results didn't change. The flash kept firing but the images had completely lost the earlier balanced look.
    I've attached 3 sample photos (screenshots of the RAW files straight out of the camera; faces are pixellated but otherwise unedited). As you can see, the first image looks normal, the second is with identical settings and the flash did fire but it's completely dark, and the third is what it looked like after I bumped up the ISO to compensate.
    If it helps, the RAW Properties are as follows:
    EX 1 (https://www.dropbox.com/s/6cil3bsu7r166rp/ex1.jpg?dl=0)
    ISO 400
    F-stop f/2.8
    Exposure time 1/160 sec
    Exposure bias 0 step
    Exposure program Manual
    Metering Mode Pattern
    Flash mode Flash; compulsory
    Focal length 24mm
    EX 2 (https://www.dropbox.com/s/7192qar5p9fz2i7/ex2.jpg?dl=0)
    Same as above, but ISO 500
    EX 3 (https://www.dropbox.com/s/ca2qipf2f5kjtml/ex3.jpg?dl=0)
    Same as Image 1 but ISO 4000 and Focal length 70mm.
    I have no idea what on earth happened here. I can see this sort of thing happening if I changed the settings or if the flash stopped working or if we switched to a different location but there was literally no change - from one shot to the next the photos just suddenly started coming out very dark and discolored.
    It wasn't the batteries because brand new ones had just been put into the Speedlite when the shoot began and as I said, the flash was indeed going off. Granted, I've only done about 10 shoots that used flash but this has never happened to me before and was completely bizarre.
    Can anyone tell me what might have caused this and what I should look out for or do in the future if it happens again?
  2. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Brand new batteries may not be as new as you think, they can sometimes be on the shelf for months. I'd recommend using Eneloop rechargeables and trying them. Most likely that the cause is batteries unless you're doing something really wrong in the settings.
  3. That's what I thought the problem was at first but the batteries are the Duracell ones where you can press on the meter to see how much charge is left. They were brand new and indicated a full charge when pressed.

    Also, the flash was definitely firing. I've certainly encountered bad batteries on previous shoots or times where the flash was being overworked and needed a moment to reset. However, in this case everything seemed to be completely normal. The batteries were good, the indicator lights were fine and the flash went off as it should have - just as it was doing for the first few minutes where everything looked good. But the images were suddenly coming out all wrong.

    Additionally, I used the flash 15 minutes later when we went to the park to do outdoor portraits and there was no problem. The settings were exactly the same except that since we were outside with more light, the ISO was lower. However, all of the other settings were identical and in shadier areas, the flash worked perfectly.

    So I'm completely at a loss and would really like to understand what could have caused such a thing to happen, and how to avoid or deal with it in the future. It was a very distressing and frustrating experience, especially since I have no idea where the issue came from and it happened so suddenly with no changes to either the location or settings.

    *EDIT* I should also mention that the flash DID misfire a few times before because I tried to shoot too quickly and it wasn't finished cycling, and the look of those bad / flashless images is clearly different. They're even darker (you can tell the flash just didn't go off) and the color is balanced. Also, as normally happens, the flash was fine after one or two failed shots and the images that followed looked normal. However, when this unknown problem suddenly kicked in, it just kept happening, and the images are slightly less dark and also VERY red. They just have a different look to them than the typical misfire.
  4. You changed position between the photos. Is the ceiling darker in the middle of the room, or is it much higher?
  5. Sorry, I should have clarified but the position made no difference. Those are just select shots to show you what was happening but I took pictures from all over the room with no problem at first, and then suddenly all pictures, no matter where I stood, started coming out like that. In fact, I had shot several photos from that exact position just moments before and they looked great. That's why it's so bizarre!
  6. I suspect you were not giving enough time for the flash to recycle, as each flash almost completely discharged, or completely discharged the capacitor. You were trying to bounce in a room with unreflective and dark surfaces, so the flash had to use all its power at each shot. So for the next shot you took, the flash had not completely recycled and therefore could not generate enough power to illuminate the room again. Did you check the flash was fully recharged before each shot? I think for this situation you needed a more powerful flash and/or an external battery pack.
  7. I did think about that but in this case the flash was firing just fine. I allowed enough time for it to recycle and it was going off normally. Again, there were indeed some instances before that where it misfired because it hadn't finished recharging, but those photos look a bit different and things went back to normal within one or two of those dud shots, as always happens. This seemed to be something else entirely.
    Is there any chance it could be some freak thing like a speck of dust on exactly the wrong part of the flash or lens that was somehow blocking the light? I've never heard of such a thing but I honestly can't think of what would have caused this to happen. It was really, really strange.
    Or are you suggesting that the flash was firing but not at full capacity? I mean, I wasn't exactly firing shots off in rapid succession and once this issue arose, I did give it a minute to see if it needed time to rechage but that didn't seem to help. I've shot in far darker (near pitch black, darkly surfaced) settings before with the same flash and never had this happen.
  8. Welcome to the world of wedding photography and the joys and sorrows of flash photography. I'm at the tail end of wedding season myself and the difference in quality shots from early May to end of June is pretty apparent...my images got better and better after each event....and I've been doing this for several years now. We're always learning, even as experienced wedding photographers, and mastering your flash is what separates the men from the boys.

    Just my .02.....in the beginning of your shoot, your ISO was too low for that dark room and shutter speed too high. You have a 5DMIII? ISO 3200 would've been an ideal starting point and a shutter speed of 1/80 or 1/100 max at f2.8 would have been sufficient for subjects that were pretty static. I believe the 380EX is an older flash, so like others have pointed out here, you overworked your flash right from the start and it was taking many many seconds to recharge. If the ceiling is too high or not reflective, bouncing is not ideal there. I don't believe the 380EX has a Manual mode, right? So in ETTL mode, pointing the flash directly at the subjects (w/diffuser) and dialing down the flash exposure compensation in camera, probably would have worked out a lot better, cut down on recycling time, and saved you a lot of anxiety. If your flash has a manual mode, switching to manual and dialing down the power also is an option, especially since your subjects, again, were pretty much static and you could keep your distance-to-subject pretty much the same for much of the time.
  9. The flash will still fire whether it is fully charged or not (once there is a minimum charge), but not at full output. Only when the ready light it on is it fully charged. I think this is your problem. You need a bigger flash or need to wait longer between shots.
  10. Thanks, Thomas. The settings I used were recommended by someone whose primary work is flash photography in this kind of light, and I was very happy with the first batch of photos until this weird thing started happening.
    I know that it's an older flash and doesn't have the same level of power or durability as the 600ex-rt (which I've rented a few times and will do again); however, just last week I shot a religious ceremony in a dark room with extremely high ceilings and was reeling off a ton of pictures - far more than this mini wedding here - really working the flash hard, and had no problems at all. Occasionally, it would need a moment to recharge but nothing more than the usual.
    My main concern is why this has never happened before even when shooting in similar circumstances with the same equipment. And if it was just a matter of the flash needing a minute to be at full output, I did allow time for that once this issue started happening and it didn't help. It had plenty of time to recharge, the ready light was definitely on and it looked like it was firing at the same capacity as it had been doing in the beginning. Granted, I'm not so experienced with using flash that I can say that with one hundred percent certainty but to me, everything looked and worked normally aside from how differently the pictures were suddenly coming out.
    I suppose if it happens again I can try turning down the shutter speed, upping the ISO (like I did this time), and/or dialing down the exposure compensation to aim it straight ahead instead of bouncing. But again, I've done far more demanding shoots with this flash before, in similar settings, and this seemed very different from the usual misfire / need an extra minute to recycle situation. I just wish I knew for sure!
    Either way, hopefully I'll be able to work around it better next time...
  11. No point doing anything with shutter speed, your only recourse is to open the aperture or up the ISO, or get a more powerful flash, or stop bouncing the light.
  12. Forgive me if it's a stupid question, but if not bouncing the light, instead pointing the flash directly at the subjects, aside from playing around with the exposure compensation, is there any way to make the light look better?
    I've never used a softbox - can one be attached to a flash in the hot shoe position when it's facing forward? If so, is there a particularly good one to use (on the 380ex but also for the 600ex-rt since I'll probably rent that for most similar shoots and just have the 380 as a backup)?
    Or are there any other specific accessories that I should look into for getting better results in that type of lighting with the setup that I have? At this stage, I'm not looking to bother with multiple flashes, stands, remote triggers, etc. because this type of photography is not my primary line of work and when I do use flash, it's sparingly and for fairly small, low key events.
    Obviously, if I start doing larger events of that sort then I'll want to learn more about the various options. More likely, at that point I'd try to temporarily intern for or assist someone who specializes in that type of work. But for now, I'd just like to maximize the results that can be obtained with a single hot shoe flash, so any advice on that would be wonderful.
  13. The time, I've done shoots like this, if I knew I'd be taking a goodly amount of photos, I would rent a battery pack. Will ensure a good recharge of your flash for far longer than the regular batteries. So I guess I would ask, did the dimming take place towards the end of your shoot or was it just random?
  14. Unfortunately, it was totally random. The entire shoot was only about 10-15 minutes long! In that time, I only took about 40 pictures total. The darkness / discoloration problem occurred after only about 5 minutes of NON-heavy shooting. The batteries were brand new and fully charged and I wasn't overworking the flash at all. I took less than 20 shots in those 5 minutes. The batteries were still fully charged and the flash seemed to be firing and showing ready lights as normal, that's what was so weird about it.
    In contrast, last week I had a 2.5 hour shoot in a much darker, more difficult location and had no problems at all aside from the occasional misfire. The week before that, I had a 4 hour shoot and went through multiple sets of batteries but the flash functioned without a problem. So when I say this seemed to happen completely out of nowhere and for no explainable reason, I mean it quite literally. I didn't do anything to tax the flash that shoot and had barely gotten started. It worked fine for about 18 or so images and then, without any changes to the camera / flash settings, position, location or ambient light, the pictures started coming out dark and overly red.
  15. Here's a thread from ten years ago on the same subject with the 380 ex so I guess its not a new problem. Might be time to get a newer model flash. http://www.photo.net/canon-eos-digital-camera-forum/00F0O1?start=10
  16. If you are going to do weddings in future get a good battery pack to maintain constant reserve for recharge
    and a decent high capacity flash and then duplicate it for backup. Flash was necessary when I did weddings
    and I was effective with it in bright sunlight to fill shadows, filling facial shadows, bouncing off walls and
    ceilings, and controlling direct flash when necessary. Even with a high quality system you must leave time for
    the flash to re-charge. Batteries have constantly reducing voltage. If you do not have enough juice because of
    insufficient recovery time for a shot you will not catch up immediately with rapidly following subsequent shots. The above advice about ISO will help reduce the load.
  17. Could be a fault in the flash due to poor heat dissipation. I use Yongnuo speedlights ( to supplement my Canon speedlight) and got 1 that works perfectly and is reliable and another (small model) that becomes unpredictable after moderate usage.
  18. In one of your pictures the wall sconces are exposed ok but the subjects are dark. That means the light from the flash was either too weak or the sync with the shutter opening was at the wrong time. Do you chimp the shots as you take them? That should let you know when this is happening but you may not want to risk losing a good shot. Are the contacts on the camera and flash clean? As others have said replacing the flash may be the only sure cure.
    Good luck!
  19. a much darker, more difficult location​
    Yes, but what were the walls, and ceiling like? The walls in your troublesome shoot were dark brown and what color was the ceiling? An environment like that absorbs light rather than reflects it.
  20. I'd go with Robin Smith.
    In my experience many flashes will fire before the charge is actually complete, hence lower output, etc.
  21. As a past wedding photog, probably shot at least 1000 weddings, starting in 1987 with Hasselblads. Your flash surely didn't
    fire. So the question is why? As most of the posts have already stated your flash batteries probably didn't recycle fast
    enough and I also agree about the use of Eneloop batteries. I used a different system, a Quantum 5T flash with their turbo
    batteries, but with the eneloop batteries you should change them after every 75 flashes.

    I do not like to bounce off of ceilings, because of getting weird colors. I prefer bounce cards, domes, something white. Even
    an index card, bent forward held with a simple high tech rubber band! The problem with your bounced image is you actually have 2 issues. The first is you bounced the flash and the second is your flash was underexposed by about 2 stops. Thus the tan look to the
    white dress. Sometimes if you are 7 to 10 feet away and you are using a bounce card you still need to set the flash to full
    power or you will be underexposed as in this situation. Program and Auto modes often don't work. I have a few friends that
    insist that they set their flash units to Manual. They prefer to set the flash to an 1/8 power all the way to full power, because
    every flash shot is dead on, depends of course on the distance of the subjects.

    Don't ever shoot over ISO/ASA of about 1600 to 2000 or you will pick up the lights in the room and the halls. It's surely OK to be creative, but not with bridal shots. Hope this helps.
  22. Hi Bob, the problem is, the flash did fire. I saw it go off. But as others have said, perhaps it just wasn't at full capacity and my eyes couldn't see the difference?
    Do you know of any good videos / tutorials that show detailed versions of your suggestions (using bounce cards, domes, etc.) so that I can get a better idea of exactly where to aim the flash, how to set up that sort of attachment, where to stand and so on? I know I can google it easily enough but so much comes up in those searches, if you know of any particular page with that type of information, I'd definitely appreciate being pointed in the right direction!
  23. Briefly, I see many people putting a plastic diffuser dome on their flash, pointing it up at 45 or more degrees and calling it good. The problem is, that is often NOT good for many situations.
    Truly knowing how to use bounce is a wonderful thing. I recommend following up with some of Neil van Niekerk's work. He's written a few books (and I've read all of them). From what I read in your post, you might be interested in his "ON Camera Flash". Many people thing that ON camera flash is a bad thing. Well, done incorrectly, that's true. But done correctly, you can get better results from on camera flash than improperly used OFF.
    For free inspiration, check out his article here:
  24. You should be able to walk around the house and try different exposures, ISO settings, flash settings, flash recycle times, and bounce targets.
    Most flash units are much faster with NiCd, and maybe NiMH, than with Alkaline batteries.
    When I first got a Vivitar 283, I tried some ceiling bounce shots, but never liked them.
    With a white card held above the camera at 45 degrees (there is a special adaptor for that), you might get good bounce. Or the plastic dome that goes over the flash.
    The normal flash distance calculator dials are for direct flash. You lose at least a few stops with bounce.
  25. Hi RS,

    Great questions! I won't answer your questions because we are crossing boundaries with the wedding forum.

    Send me an email and I will share a lot of information about lighting. The most important part about photography in my
    opinion is lighting. This will take several emails to get you on board with samples from me, my past partner, who still
    shoots 60 plus weddings a year, using multi lights, things like that. I'm willing to help you out. There really isn't that
    perfect book or video. In fact I probably have about 100 plus photo books! Eamil is fotoflasher@aol.com I'm pretty
    busy, so don't get angry if I don't respond everyday. This is my system, with a wide angle dome, MOST of the time, but
    I do change it arounf a bit. Check out the lessons offered on the Quantum site. You don't have to run out and buy this
    system, in fact I probably wouldn't unless you were shooting weddings for a living. It's overkill, but if you shoot 2 or 3
    weddings on a weekend, which I often did, this system never failed me in the digital era. In the film days I used
    Hasselblads and the Metz 60 CT1 and the CT4 strobes.

    For fun now, I'm disabled, hopefully that will change and I will get back into photography one day. I am using the Canon
    5DS r with the Phottix Mitros flash. Easier to operate and very accurate compared to any Canon flash unit, which I also
    have, 2, 580 flash units.Yes Canon makes very good flash units. I like them a lot!

    Just so that you RS, and other readers know, I light up the reception halls with White Lightning strobes using Pocket
    Wizard radio slaves. These White Lightning strobes have never failed me, not once since the first one I bought in the
    early1990's! I have 8 of these units, the most powerful ones are the 3200 models and you really don't need these as
    they will peel the paint off of walls. Yes they are that powerful! <joking> But they are perhaps the most powerful strobe
    units on the market. You can surely light up a symphony concert hall with just one. I did drop one unit one time and it hit
    the floor. I called them, sent it to them overnight and they shipped it back and I had it by Friday, for the weekend
    weddings. NO CHARGE! Not even for their postage and it was out of the 5 year warranty! I called them to question
    this. Their answer was "Don't worry about it." Well that's why I own 8 of their strobes. Lets face reality here. Who offers
    a 5 year warranty anymore and who fixes something out of warranty that's surely my fault and they knew it?

    I actually really like how simple this camera flash unit is to use and it has a very nice reflective soft dome. It's pretty
    powerful too! http://www.phottix.com/index.php/en/hot-shoe-flashes/phottix-mitros-ttl-transceiver-flash.html (Photttix

    http://www.qtm.com/index.php/products/qflash/trio-shoe-mounted-flash (Quantum trio)

    This should perhaps be on the wedding site, but it is more related to Canon tech situations, not weddings itself. Editors,
    kindly notice that I didn't get into portrait lighting, just Canon gear, radio slaves, flash units, and strobes that work well
    with Canon gear. I also asked RS to contact me off of this site.

    RS, I still have to disagree with you. If the flash fired your camera settings were wrong or you have issues with your
    camera and/or your flash. It did NOT sync according to your settings. So please get this checked out. I'm very good at
    seeing issues such as knowing when a flash doesn't fire. So if it did fire and you are positive, you have a camera issue.
    You can also go look on Photoshop or the Canon software and it will tell you if the flash fired. Maybe your shutter speed
    was unknowingly set at 2000th of a second or something like that and the shutter didn't sync with the flash. This info
    will be in Photoshop or the Canon software.

    Happy 4th folks! Cheers!

  26. Get your self a second flash carry in your pocket with fresh batteries. Have way through change flash.
    You could also in addition t that. Get Quantum Turbo battery SC or Blade are small and light weight.
    I think your flash is heating up and becoming less erecttive. also save your settings t custom mode C1 so you can recall
    at any time. To make sure you have not changed any settings by mistake.

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